Front Window #3: Notes on Time Dilation and Corona Detox

Wednesday 25 — Saturday 28 March 2020

I have had trouble sleeping. The dust in the flat and the pollution and the spring air has been playing havoc with my allergies this past week.

I stay up late and hear the foxes screaming and screeching. They don’t usually make a lot of noise but they are at the moment. It feels like they’re reclaiming the night.

I get up early, around 8am. My nostrils sting in the dry air and I’m awake whether I like it or not. Despite seeing the full day through, I find myself glancing up at the clock at around 5pm every day and not knowing what has happened. I have achieved little but nonetheless been preoccupied. I’m not worried about it. There is no guilt.

My girlfriend has had a fever for four days. We’re fairly convinced that she has the virus. I’m showing no symptoms that couldn’t be explained by my allergies. No fever for me. I look after her but also mostly keep to myself. She had no energy and aches all over. “The muscles even ache when I move my eyes,” she says. There’s little to do other than run the odd bath or get her glasses of water. It’s not like I can pop down to the shop and bring back supplies.

I wonder if I’m immune or if I’ve entered a waiting game now, fated to be struck down by the inevitable. Whatever happens, the result is more or less the same. Following the medical advice, because someone I live with is sick, I can’t leave the flat for 14 days. She can be more mobile seven days after her symptoms stop. At this rate, I’ll suffer the punishment of isolation longer than she will. That seems unfair somehow.

I just want to order a pizza.

Sunday 29 March 2020

Where did the rest of the week go?

I have sunk my time into completing two essays for elsewhere and it is only now, trying to account for those lost days whilst on the other side of them, that I start to feel disorientated.

The days are long but I don’t remember them. They drag and are over before I know it. On the PlaguePod, Robin talks a bit about Michel Tournier’s Friday and I open a random page of my copy of the book to find the journal entries of his initial days on the island. It’s surreal how accurate they are when compared to the present: a mundane equivalent.

Solitude is not a changeless state imposed on me […] It is a corrosive influence which acts on me slowly but ceaselessly, and in one sense purely destructively. […]

I know now that every man carries within himself — and as it were above himself — a fragile and complex framework of habits, responses, reflexes, preoccupations, dreams and associations, formed and constantly transformed by perpetual contact with his fellows. Deprived of its sap this delicate growth withers and dissolves. My fellow-men were the mainstay of my world […] Each day I measure my debt to them by observing the fresh cracks in my personal structure. I know what I would suffer should I lose the use of words, and with all the power of my anguish I seek to combat that final surrender. But my relationship to material things is also undermined by solitude. […]

But my solitude does not only destroy the meaning of things. It undermines them at the very root of their being. More and more do I come to doubt the existence of my senses. I know now that the very earth beneath my feet needs to be trodden by feet other than mine if I am to be sure of its substance. Optical illusions, mirages, hallucinations, waking dreams, imagined sounds, fantasy and delirium … against these aberrations the surest guard is our brother, our neighbour, our friend of our enemy — anyway, God save us, someone!

It was amusing to read this and think about Robin and Simon’s disagreement that J.G. Ballard’s short story “The Enormous Space” could possibly be read as a positive tale. Simon finds no novel reading in it that becomes emancipatory. Robin, perhaps, sees a modern day version of Tournier’s Robinson.

Friday, or the Other Island is, after all, a retelling of Robinson Crusoe but one in which the fatal flaw of that story is sidestepped. As countless critics have noted, the power of Robinson Crusoe is totally dissipated by Robinson’s decision to simply recreate the civilisation he has left behind on the island he now finds himself. It is, in reality, a great failure of the imagination. Friday instead takes seriously the scenario into which Robinson has been thrown and considers the impact of one’s consciousness (and unconsciousness) echoing around itself without the reflective screen of the Other. Then, when the Other is reintroduced, what happens next is all the more mind-bending.

Not that this has much of an impact on our current existences. I felt a bit useless on the PlaguePod on Saturday night because, despite the billed probing into the psychological effects of corona quarantine, I actually feel really great…

Before all this, I was nonetheless trying to articulate the surreality of our present circumstances. I keep thinking about Mark Fisher’s phrase “boring dystopia”, for instance.

Whilst real-life events are enough to bring that to mind, I had in fact spent most of Saturday replaying the first Resident Evil game for the first time in about 20 years. I was taking time to read all the diary entries and documents about the outbreak and the escalation of the crisis. I got really into it. I started to think, if things get really bad here in the real world, will people read this blog and other people’s blogs in the same way? As these darkly humorous documents, brimming with mystery and naivety before the impending disaster wipes all trace of us from the earth, only to be picked over as novel dispatches for the few survivors left standing?

Probably not. It’s all so boring. Like, it is literally boring. The streets outside and the media reports and the news bulletins and the general anxiety felt by all… It’s so familiar, it’s so Hollywood, it’s so dystopian, and yet so fucking boring. Our present moment is so defined by uneventfulness, by pointlessness, by stupidity. There’s no great moment of hubris on the horizon as the bureaucrats realise the world has ended without them. Boris Johnson tests positive and the response is, yeah, well done, you fucking muppet, now what? Go work from home, I guess? Don’t you do that anyway, “part-time prime minister”?

The dystopia is here. We’re living in it and we have been for some time. There’s no point to it. There’s no spectacle. It’s just boring as fuck. So too is the experience of my own adjusting subjectivity. This is no Ballardian adventure into inner space. Time wobbles and dilates but what is the impact? I can suddenly fit more video gaming into my day than I previously thought possible.

But that’s not entirely true. It is having an impact. In fact, I’m very puzzled to tell you that it is having a really positive impact. I’m going through a sort of corona detox. I’ve been forced to let go of all the bad habits that I usually rely on the make it through the day. I’m detoxing on caffeine and refined sugar. The bout of bulimia that had begun to creep back into my life in the last few weeks has been curtailed with immediate effect. I’ve effortlessly fallen into a regulated sleeping pattern. I’m eating better. I’m being more productive and managing my time a lot better. I’ve spent the weekend doing nothing at all, guilt-free.

I felt bad about confessing this, in case it came across as one of those “woah, I’m reborn and am now working much more efficiently” type people. But it’s not that at all. I’m not being “productive” in the sense of using my labour time efficiently. Instead, I feel like I’m putting better vibes out into the world. I’m calmer, happier. The natural expenditures of my existence, uncontaminated by capitalist control, are producing good things.

It made me think about that god-awful eco-fascist bullshit being spread by some members of Extinction Rebellion.

Humans aren’t the disease. Capitalism is. To equate one with the other is to give up on another world before you’ve decided to build it.

If corona has been a cure for anything so far, on a personal level, it has cured me of the workaday anxieties that have defined life in this city for the past three years. I feel like the monkey is off my back. I can’t afford to pay rent but also, I don’t care. Because no one can.

Also, this solitude hasn’t denied me of “the surest guard … of my brother”, as Tournier describes it. It has cleansed the relationships that already exist underneath capitalism’s watchful eye.

I thought being trapped in this shoebox flat with my girlfriend 24/7 would lead to us killing each other, for instance. In fact, I can tell we’re both feeling the benefits. We’re just existing in each other’s company. The days might not be filled with couple’s activities and long talks about the state of the world — especially not since she’s been ill — but I find myself looking at her and smiling in a way I haven’t for a long time, because the monkey is off my back. Economic pressures are not yanking at my hair and trying to divert my attention elsewhere.

I feel at peace because coronavirus has silenced the constant hum of the machine, the tinnitus of capital, that usually accompanies every waking moment of life and which makes me feel ill. It’s only been one week but I feel the healthiest I’ve felt in over four years. My body is going into the sort of recovery mode that I only tend to experience when I go on holiday.

It’s not all silver linings, of course. The virus brings its own terrors. I am still exchanging anxious texts and emails with my extended family but I’ve been surprised to find that those who I assumed would struggle most actually feel the same way I do.

We were particularly worried about one family member, who works as an independent cleaner and who is a precarious worker like so many. If she doesn’t work she doesn’t get paid and she has a son and a dog and a house to keep up with. And yet, she feels the same way I do. There’s nothing she can do. It’s out of her control. So, she’s relaxed into the present circumstances and is putting her feet up. And so she should.

My girlfriend called to me from the bedroom, wondering where I’d disappeared off to so quietly. “Blogging,” was the response. “Of course,” was her reply. I told her about these feelings and she was quick to remind me, “It’s only week one…”

Best to be cautious with your musings in times like these. I’d hate a blogpost to acquire the same energy this tweet now has in six months’ time…

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